The non-ranking event gets under way on Sunday in Milton Keynes.
With the New Year reeled in, the Masters snooker seeds will be making the countdown to the first major event of 2021.
Usually contested for in the English capital city of London, this year’s edition will take the unprecedented step of instead being staged behind closed doors in Milton Keynes as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As things stand, the action is set to begin on Sunday despite the introduction of the latest lockdown across the UK, and in the lead-up we’re taking a look at the contenders in the draw.
In today’s last part, let’s review the Masters seeds ranked from positions one to four in 2021.
4. Neil Robertson (Australia)
The top five seeds in the Masters field this year all understand what it takes to win the event, and Neil Robertson is no different.
The Australian triumphed in 2012 with a 10-6 victory over Shaun Murphy and has featured in two further finals at the Alexandra Palace.
Since making his debut as a wildcard in 2004, Robertson has only lost at the opening hurdle four times when participating in the competition.
The 38 year-old will be expected to add to that impressive haul of first-round successes when he takes on Yan Bingtao in the last 16 next week.
Indeed, Robertson is one of the big favourites after a strong start to this campaign in which he has already made three appearances in finals, capturing the UK Championship title just before Christmas.
Robertson often thrives in matches against the bigger players so the Masters is a good fit for the Melbourne man, and it would therefore be somewhat of a surprise if his career were to end with his name etched onto the Paul Hunter Trophy just once.
A potential quarter-final against Mark Selby could be an intriguing encounter that determines the finalist from the top half of this year’s draw.
3. Judd Trump (England)
The runaway world number one and an ever-present at the business end of almost every tournament nowadays, it’s easy to run out of superlatives when talking about Judd Trump.
So far during the 2020/21 campaign, Trump has won a hat-trick of ranking event titles, reached two additional finals, and has so far not failed to make the last eight of a competition.
It’s a staggering level of consistency and it will be interesting to see how long he can keep it up for, or whether the minor winter break will have had any affect on his game.
This time last year, Trump endured a very temporary blip in form when he suffered early defeats in both the UK Championship and what was the defence of his Masters crown.
The 31 year-old will be looking to threaten again having raised the silverware aloft in 2019 – one of the wins that sparked this two-year stretch of sustained success.
Trump takes on David Gilbert in the first match on Sunday afternoon, probably one of the kindest draws the Englishman could have received given the latter’s poor form of late.
2. Ronnie O’Sullivan (England)
As the reigning world champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan is the second seed and back in the Masters after opting to skip last year’s edition of the prestigious invitational.
Nobody has, or arguably ever will have, the kind of Masters record that could emulate O’Sullivan’s unbelievable record in the tournament.
Since making his debut 27 years ago, O’Sullivan has lost his first fixture only four times – the last of which occurring a decade ago – and the “Rocket” has stormed to the final on a mindboggling 13 occasions.
With seven triumphs, O’Sullivan holds the record for most Masters wins, and even though his form has been decidedly patchy recently, he will still be among the favourites for glory.
While O’Sullivan did well to reach two finals during the first half of this term, his standard has been way off what people are used to seeing.
A tricky opening contest against Ding Junhui will go a long way in telling us whether O’Sullivan will be able to mount a serious challenge again in 2021.
John Higgins or Mark Allen would await in the next round, so if the 45 year-old has aspirations of accumulating an eighth crown, he’ll certainly have to do it the hard way.
1. Stuart Bingham (England)
Stuart Bingham is the reigning champion and the top seed despite being officially ranked 12th and in danger of dropping out of the top 16 ahead of the World Championship later this year.
The Englishman is 21st on the provisional Race to the Crucible standings, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back inside the elite bracket this time next year.
The 44 year-old, who became the oldest winner of the Masters twelve months ago when he beat Ali Carter in a nail-biter, will look then to make the most of this defence.
Bingham has been granted with a relatively kind draw in the form of Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, one of the two Masters seeds making their debut in 2021.
In fact, no player from the top quarter has displayed much form this campaign so far, which grants an opportunity for one of them to achieve a semi-final spot.
Bingham hasn’t really played consistently well for two years now, but for one week around this time last year it all clicked into gear and he’ll be after similar results again this time.
Featured photo credit: WST